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Chinatown: Scene Commentary

Script to Film

One of the chief pleasures of detective stories in fiction and film, is that readers and
viewers occupy the same position as the detective--trying to figure out what is going
on. Chinatown presents its complex story from Jake Gittes' point of view. That is, the
audience experiences the events of the story as Jake does. Jake is in every scene and
we are with him. We never know more than Jake knows.

Like all detective stories, the meaning of Chinatown is only revealed in the end. Clues
are only clues retrospectively. That is, only at the end do we see that certain details --
objects, actions, places, bits of dialogue that appeared to be random and trival at the
time--were actually filled with significance. They were clues, if only we could have
understood them when we first experienced them.

What I propose to do with Chinatown is comment on the major scenes as they unfold,
but from the vantage point of the end.

The commentary is based on Chinatown: Narrative Structure.

Color coding and underlining of major symbols.

1. Montage of photographs. (C. 1)


2. Jake and Curly. Albacore.

Chinatown opens with a close-up of a sex scene in a field. A beat after


the image on the screen are sounds of moaning. What's going on? Then a
second image replaces the first, even more explicit. Then a third image
as the camera slowly pulls back a bit to reveal fingers on the edge of the
image. Now we realize that we are seeing some photographs. The
camera continues to pull back, slowly revealing the context of a guy
looking at the photos in an office with another man sitting at a desk.
Because we've seen lots of detective films, we instantly know that this
guy is a client in the office of a private detective. A classic detective
scene. The private snoop has got the goods on the guy's wife. The
photographs are irrefutable proof. Photos don't lie. Seeing is believing.
What is the function of this startling opening? Beginning a film with a
close-up is always disorienting because there's no context for
understanding what we're seeing. It's a way of shocking the audience and
making them want to know what's going on. The gradual camera pull
back is a way of maintaining the suspense and gradually giving the
answer.

Reading this opening scene from the end of the film, we understand that
Polanski is introducing a major theme: Mis-seeing, the misunderstanding
of appearances.

Photographs play a major thematic role in the film. Photographs


supposedly document the truth. Jake is a detective--a guy whose job it is
to figure out what is going on. One of the chief means of doing that is by
taking photographs. Photos are proof.

Polanski is setting up a central irony in the film. The photographs of


Curly's wife do indeed tell the truth. There's no room for
misinterpretation. Seeing is believing. Jake has successfully done his job
of detecting and documenting the truth of what Curly's wife had done.
Jake is confident and smug in this scene.

However, in the rest of the film, photographs function ironically--they


mislead. The photographs Jake takes of Hollis and the girl in the boat
and at the apartment are misleading. The same for the series of
photographs Walsh takes of Hollis arguing with another man. In fact, the
photographs mislead everyone from Jake to Lou Escobar. Instead of
revealing the truth, the photographs obscure the truth of what is going
on.

Curly also has an important plot function. He can't pay Jake his full fee.
This sets up Jake's collecting his debt by using Curly to help him escape
from the cops and to take Evelyn and her daughter to Mexico.

Finally, Curly's bit of dialogue as he's leaving Jake's office is important


because it introduces one of the key symbols of the film: "albacore."
Curly says he gets less money for catching skipjack that he does for
albacore. This seemingly insignificant detail: "albacore" will be referred
to five times more as the story develops. Its symbolic meaning will
become clear in scene #34 with Jake and Evelyn.
3. Jake and Mrs. Mulwray.
4. Jake observes Hollis Mulwray at public hearing. (C. 2)
5. Jake observes Mulwray at the LA river talking to a boy on a horse.
6. Jake observes Mulwray checking water drain at the ocean.
7. Jake's office. Photos of Mulwray arguing with a man. "apple core."
8. Echo Park: Jake takes photos of Mulwray and a girl.
9. El Macondo apartments: Jake taking photos of Mulwray and the
girl.
10. The Barber shop: "I make an honest living." (C. 3)

The first thing to notice about scenes #3 through #10 is that the action is
a replay of Curly's story. Jake is hired by Mrs. Mulwray to find out the
truth about Mulwray's adultery. Which is what Jake does. Only this time
we get to see Jake in action--spying on Hollis Mulwray and taking the
photographs of Hollis and his mistress that, like the photos of Curly's
wife, document the facts of Hollis' adultery. Jake's success in detecting
what's going on culminates in the newspaper's publishing the
photographs which expose Hollis' scandalous activity. A replay of
Curly's story.

The next scene will reveal the irony that Jake has been duped by a false
Mrs. Mulwray.

But there is a deeper irony--Jake will gradually discover that he


misunderstood what was going on. His photographs not only did not
capture the truth, but were completely misleading. The real story is not a
Curly story at all.

These scenes have an important plot function. First, they set up a


standard move in detective stories. The detective is hire to find out the
truth about one thing and discovers that the real story is about something
else. Marlowe in The Big Sleep is hired to stop a blackmailer from
harassing the Sternwoods. In the process of doing that, he stumbles into
the real mystery--what happened to Rusty Regan. Let's look at the details
of how the film sets the real plot in motion.

In scenes #4 through 6, Jake begins his investigation like a good PI by


observing the suspect, Hollis Mulwray.

Scene #4. What he observes about Hollis at the public hearing about
building a dam doesn't have a thing to do with Hollis's sexual behavior.
But the scene is crucial in a couple of ways. First, Jake is introduced to
what will emerge as the real story--the controversy over the building of
the dam to bring more water to LA. Second, Jake sees that Hollis is at
the center of the controversy because he refuses to build the dam in the
face of hostile reactions. Jake's reaction-shot shows that he registers the
fact that Hollis is a man of intergrity.

Scene #5. Jake tails Hollis to the LA river and observes him talking to a
boy on a horse. This bit of behavior makes no sense to Jake. How could
it? Many scenes later Jake will understand when he returns to this scene
and has his own discussion with the boy on the horse. (Scene #18)

This is probably a good moment to discuss the Narrative pov of the film.
One of the standard assertions about Chinatown is that we experience the
world of the story through Jake's subjective point of view. That's true
and not true. We do indeed move through the events of the story with
Jake. We only know what he knows. There's never a shift to another
character's story and point of view. But we see with Jake not through
his subjective consciousness. The film never present Jake's mind
directly. We only know what he's thinking and feeling by his actions and
speech. There are plenty of Jake pov shots such as the shots in this scene
that simulate Jake looking through the binoculars. But so-called
subjective pov shots are not representations of a character's
consciousness, but only of what he sees. We share Jake's perceptual
point of view, but never his subjective consciousness about what he's
seeing (See my Portals to the Brain: Film Techniques for presenting
Consciousness.).

In scene #6, Jake tails Hollis to the ocean where he observes Hollis
looking at a drain and staying there until dark. Jake gets wet by a sudden
burst of water down the drain. He watches Hollis watch the water
pouring into the ocean. But again, it isn't clear what Hollis is up to.

Scene #7 is a key scene because after finding out that Mulwray spend the
whole night there and about his other trips to reservoirs around the city,
Jake is stymied. He can't make sense of Mulwray's actions. But then
Walsh brings in some photographs he took of Mulwray.

This is the first set of photographs used in the film after the opening ones
of Curly's wife. But unlike Curly's photos, these photographs do not
yield a clear meaning, but only confusion. Jake examines this series of
Hollis meeting another man in front of a restaurant. As Walsh shows
them to Jake, he tells him what he saw happening between these men.
They were arguing about something, which the final couple of photos
document. But then Walsh says he couldn't really hear what exactly they
were arguing about. The only word he could make out was: "apple core."

Now this is brilliant scene for many reasons.

o First, it's a great means of introducing Noah Cross into the story.
Beautiful. All we see is what Jake sees. Hollis arguing with some
old man. One of the great artistic strokes is the way in which the
film develops the character of Noah Cross. Here he is for the first
time, a mystery. Who he is and his significance in the story, Jake
will only gradually discover in his quest to figure out what's going
on.
o Second, the scene introduces the second reference to albacore.
Hollis and the man were arguing over something, which Walsh
heard as "apple core." Again, from the end of the film, we
understand that Walsh misunderstood the word "albacore." But
this mishearing of the word is a perfect expression of the complete
misunderstanding of what Hollis has been doing and what it all
means.

We know in retrospect what the argument was about. It was about


the Albacore Club. Hollis had figured out Cross' plot to build the
dam and buy up the valley land through the use of his Albacore
Club as part of his scheme get even richer but also to control the
future of Los Angeles. Their argument, which the photographs
capture, is the reason that Noah murdered Hollis.

o This scene is absolutely ironic because Walsh's "apple core"


indicates how literally he misunderstood the significance of what
he was seeing and recording with his camera. Jake's response is
appropriate. He berates Walsh for wasting his time with stuff that
is so trivial and unintelligible. Irony upon irony.
o But there's one more irony. The solution to the murder mystery
that Jake is unkowningly getting involved in (which of course,
hasn't even happened yet), is right there before his eyes and for
the eyes of the audience. Very much like the opening scene in The
Big Sleep in which Carmen Sternwood flops into Marlowe's arms.
She is in fact the murderer he will be spending the rest of the story
looking for--right there in his arms. But that's one of the great
pleasures of detective stories--the way in which the clues are all
so obvious and understandable once we've reached the end.
o Now the fine riff on the detective genre--the misdirection. Jake
has just looked at the real story, but has no way to understand it.
So he's off on something he can understand. Duffy has found
Hollis with a woman. Jake goes for two scenes of taking
photographs of Hollis and his mistress. Sure enough, Jake knows
his business and takes the photos that will, just like Curly's,
expose the truth of Hollis' actions. Jake has figured out what's
going on, which culminates in the Barbershop scene in which the
newspaper headlines feature the Mulwray's scandal documented
by the photographs Jake had taken.

11. Jake's office: The Chinaman joke and Mrs. Mulwray.

The first reversal of expectations scene. This scene is a nice comic scene,
which includes a bit of slapstick as Jake tells his Chinaman joke to his
guys while ignoring their efforts to clue him in that a woman is listening
behind him. The audience enjoys the anticipation of Jake's
embarassment when he discovers the woman and we laugh when he sees
her. But then the shocker: The woman is the real Mrs Mulwray.

Two points about the scene. First, a great way to introduce Evelyn
Mulwray. Visually, we get to focus on her as Jake's telling his joke.
Then she turns out to be witty and cool and smooth and in control of the
scene. She makes Jake sputter and look foolish. Nice dramatic entrance
scene. (Polanski loves a good entrance: See the way he presents the live
Noah Cross for the first time after developing his character through
hearsay and the photographs at the department of Water and Power.)

The second point is the significance of the Chinaman joke. The film very
carefully develops the symbol of Chinatown as representing the
enigmatic, the indecipherable. One way it does it is by casual references
to the standard racial stereotypes of the Chinese that were a part of the
dominant Anglo culture of Los Angeles in the 30's. This innocuous joke
about the Chinaman's sexual behavior was part of that Oriental
stereotype. There are several other stereotypes about the Chinese
carefully positioned throughout the story as a means of gradually
developing the significance of "Chinatown."
12. Jake at Water and Power. Jake and the Albacore.

Jake's response to being set up by someone is to renew his investigation


of Hollis Mulwray in an effort to uncover the reason he had been so
cleverly used. So he goes to the Department of Water and Power in order
to meet Mulwray himself. The scene is important in the plot
development in several ways.

First, the clever and dense use of the setting. The walls of the offices are
covered with framed photographs, which seemingly are just part of the
decor. However, we'll soon see that the photographs will play an
important role in Jake's slow unravelling of the threads of the mystery of
Hollis Mulwray. When Jake returns for a second time to the Department,
he will learn important information by studying the photographs on the
wall. As we shall see, one wall hanging in Yelburton's office is about to
play a very significant plot role.

Second, Jake finds that Hollis is not at work. But he snoops in his office
and finds a hand written note about Oak Pass Reservoir. Polanski moves
the camera in close so the audience can clearly read it. Because of the
camera attention, we understand that this is an important clue about
what's going on. But at this point, its meaning isn't clear. However, Jake
will later follow up on this cryptic statement and go exploring at Oak
Pass Reservoir.

Third, Jake meets Deputy Chief Yelburton and is ushered into his office.
The office is decorated with a stuffed fish and numerous plaques and
framed photographs. Jake looks around the room but doesn't focus on
anything in particular. However, Polanski very cleverly aligns Jake in a
medium long shot with a glass-framed flag with the image of a fish on it.
The camera shifts a bit so it first captures Jake looking at the camera
while standing beside the fish image. Then Jake turns to the fish so we
see the reflection of his face next to it. An incredibly subtle and beautiful
shot. Jake has not noticed the flag and is completely unaware that it has
any significance. But the camera is giving the audience another clue, if
we only could see it. We certainly do register the shot because it is a
strikingly composed image. But we can't understand its significance.
Only retrospectively do we see it's the third carefully placed reference to
"albacore." When Jake understands the meaning of "albacore," he'll have
figured out what's going on.

13. Mulvihill and Jake at the elevator.

Jake encounters Mulvihill at the elevator. A nice comic scene in which


Jake has some witty dialogue riffing on Mulvihill as a corrupt former
cop. In terms of the plot, what is introduced is the connection between
Mulvihill and Yelburton. The significance of this connection will only
become clear when Jake meets Mulvihill several more times.

14. Jake and Evelyn at Mulwray's. "Bad for glass." (C. 4)

Let's explicate the meaning of the words of the gardener: "Bad for
glass." This is a crucial statement for a number of reasons.

o First, Jake hears the gardener's complaint but tosses it off with a
typical Anglo impatience with a common Asian pronunciation
mistake: l's for r's. Jake glibly mocks him by repeating "bad for
glass." It's another response to a typical Oriental stereotype.
"They" can't speak so we can understand them. So Jake makes no
effort to understand what is a puzzling statement even if rendered
into correct English: "Bad for the grass." A reason why he didn't
know what what was going on in Chinatown.
o The beauty of this seemingly insignificant statement is that when
Jake returns to this scene the second time and hears the same
words, he will suddenly listen and understand the meaning and
realize that they are the key to solving the mystery of the death of
Hollis Mulwray.

Jake sees something gleaming in the pool and is about to fish it out when
Evelyn appears and shifts his attention. A nice touch of having Jake
come within a minute of finding the crucial clue to the murder mystery
that he doesn't even know has already happened. Of course neither Jake
nor the audience can know the significance of the object in the pond at
this time. Polanski is just carefully preparing the big scene of recognition
when Jake returns to the scene of the crime (See #41).

The dialogue scene with Evelyn is important because Evelyn surprises


Jake by dropping the suit. He's confused about Evelyn and still thinks
there's something about Hollis and the other woman. But Jake makes it
clear that he's on this case now because his reputation is at stake. He's
been used and he wants to find out why. He understands that there's
some plot to get Hollis, so he wants to meet him. Evelyn suggests that he
might find him at Oak Pass. This information motivates the shift to the
next scene.

15. Jake and Escobar at the Oak Pass Reservoir. "I'm out
of Chinatown."

Here's where the murder mystery begins. Jake sees the drowned body of
Hollis Mulwray. One of the nice structural ironies is that Jake has just
left the scene of the crime at the pool where he came within seconds of
discovering the evidence that would solve the murder that he is about to
encounter.

The dramatic structure of the scene is brilliant. It begins with the typical
PI vs. Cop banter between Jake, Lou Escobar and Loach. The seemingly
meaningless banter is loaded with expository and thematic information.
Their discomfort is conveyed by Loach trying to get Jake to leave and
then the stiffness and formality of the meeting between Jake and Lou.
Just what happened in Chinatown we don't know, but it was something
that caused a break between Jake and Lou and caused Jake to leave the
police force. This is their first meeting since the incident because Jake
didn't know that Lou was "out of Chinatown."

We'll find out much more about what happened in Chinatown when Jake
talks to Evelyn about his experience there as a cop. This scene is helping
prepare that revelatory moment.

The most important point about this scene is it's the moment in which the
"Chinatown" theme is explicitly introduced. It's Lou who says: I'm out of
Chinatown. This is the first of eight references to Chinatown. By means
of the repetition of this word in a variety of contexts, the film creates the
symbolic meaning of "Chinatown."

In this scene, Escobar's statement is sufficiently ambiguous. What does


he mean, "I'm out of Chinatown." It's clear from the context that he
thinks it's a good thing. But at this point all we get is that Chinatown has
some kind of negative vibe.

Another seemingly insignificant point. Jake makes a wise crack to


Loach: You still thow Chinamen into jail for spitting on the
laundry? Another casual, normal ethnic stereotype remark that's part of
LA culture of the 30's. A little detail that helps define the symbolic
significance of "Chinatown."

A final point. Notice the dramatic structure of the scene. All of the focus
is on the dialogue between Jake and Escobar. Polanski uses a long take
in which Escobar, Jake and Loach walk together in the frame talking to
each other as the camera tracks back from in front of them. They pause
while Jake and Lou talk some more. But then when Jake says he came to
the Reservoir to talk to Hollis Mulwray, Escobar suddenly points away.
A dramatic cut to a pov shot of Mulwray's body being pulled up the
spillway. Then another cut to a close-up of Mulwray's face and then the
rest of his body dragged through the static shot.

So another reversal. The story is getting very confusing, because the


adultery investigation is over. Now where to?

16. Evelyn and Escobar at Coroner's. Jake lies for Evelyn.(C. 5)

Three points about this scene. First, the official word is that Hollis
Mulwray accidentially drowned.

Second, in his conversation with Evelyn, it's clear that Esobar believes
that Evelyn had hired Jake to investigate her husband. He's read the
newspaper. Jake gets Evelyn out of a tight spot by afirming that he had
been working for her. So the Jake and Evelyn and the audience know
something Escobar doesn't. This little detail is preparing us for the
ending. Escobar doesn't find out about the fake Mrs. Mulwray until he
finds her body with Jake's photographs in #39. Escobar has very good
reasons for believing Evelyn killed Hollis out of jealousy and that Jake
has been an accessory. He's simply acting on the evidence that he can
see. The final irony is that he never knows what's really going on.

A clever plot twist. The scene sets up the reconnection of Jake with
Evelyn. A neat segue because now Evelyn ends the scene with telling
Jake she'll send him a check for his employment. A nice irony. Now Jake
is working for Mrs. Mulwray after all.

17. Jake at the morgue. Mulwray and the drowned drunk.

The central function of this scene is to give Jake a new clue to what's
going on. He goes to the Morgue to examine Mulwray's body. The
Coroner confirms that Hollis drowned. Jake puzzles over this, but then
accidently hears about the drowning of a drunk in the LA river. Jake
realizes this is very strange, since there's so little water in the river. So
he's stumbled on to a clue. It sets up the next scene of his visit to the LA
river.

Technique: Four shots. Mobile camera tracks Jake and coroner as they
walk into the main room. Lots of movement and action of other non-
speaking workers and the rolling out of the body. Natural dialogue in
two-shot from profile angle.

18. Jake at Hollenbeck bridge. Talks to the boy on the horse.

Jake repeats the actions of Mulwray in scene #5. He, like Mulwray,
encounters the boy on the horse. The boy tells him that the water comes
in different places and times during the night. The scene is primarily for
the audience. Jake doesn't say anything about what the boy has told him.
But since we are experiencing the story with him, we realize what Jake
must realize--that the drunk drowned in one of those bursts of water into
the river.
19. Jake at the Reservoir. The nosy fellow.

Jake goes back at night to the Reservoir where Mulwray was found
drowned. He discovers the hard way that the release of water is still
going on.

But now the plot takes a sinister turn. This is another reversal scene, as
Jake has his nose cut by a nasty man. Since Mulvihill is the henchman
who holds Jake, we know that there's some connection between this
threat and Yelburton.

This is one of the most memorable scenes in the film because the bad
guy is Polanski, and his slashing of Jake's nose is so shocking because so
unexpected and brutal.

And there is the obvious symbolism of the PI--the Snoop--getting his


nose slashed.

So the scene is a reversal. But also creates intense identification and


sympathy for Jake. We know no "Snoop" worth a sniff will be deterred
by such an act. In fact, he'll know that he's sniffing in the right places.

20. Jake's office. Ida Sessions calls.

Ida Sessions, in telling Jake that she was the fake Mrs. Mulwray, drops
two clues that further the plot development.

First, that she didn't have anything to do with Mulwray's death. This
again allows the audience to infer what Jake must be thinking: that
Hollis' death was not an accident, but a murder.

Second, she gives him a puzzling clue: Check the obituary column in the
paper. Now Jake has another path to follow in trying to figure out what's
going on.

21. Jake and Evelyn at the Restaurant. (C. 6)


A big scene, rich with important details.

Opens with pov shot of Jake reading the obituary column. He's following
up on Sessions' clue.

Notice how Polanski repeats one of his favorite moves: beginning with a
close-up and then slowly pulling back to reveal the situation. Here he
repeats beginning with Jake reading a newspaper. In addition to the
visual disorientation of a close-up, using the newspaper is an economical
means of exposition. Here the camera gives Jake's pov of the obituary
column in which we can clearly see: "Jasper Lamar Crabb," which
prepares us for when Jake later remembers this name in connection with
the land purchases. Also, Jake flips to the paper's headlines that show the
City Council passed the Dam initiative, another piece of information that
indicates the hidden plot is advancing.

As he tears out the column, Evelyn makes her entrance. A fine dialogue
scene as Evelyn cleverly misleads Jake about what she's "hiding."

Evelyn does act nervous. Jake thinks that she's hiding her jealousy about
Hollis' "Other Woman." We know in retrospect, that she's concealing the
real truth about who the girl is. She misleads Jake in order to protect her
secret.

Time for a comment on the character of Evelyn Mulwray. I believe that


she is loosely based on the character of Vivian Sternwood in The Big
Sleep. Vivian is what I call a Faux Femme Fatale. That is, she appears to
be a Femme Fatale: A stunningly beautiful woman who is a cold
hearted, manipulative bitch capable of anything, even murder, to get
what she wants. Vivian tries to get Marlowe off the case her father hired
him for. She even tries to seduce him. However, Marlowe ultimately
discovers that Vivian only took on the persona of the Femme Fatale to
protect her morally defective and perverted sister.

Evelyn is also a Faux Femme Fatale. She does her best to throw Jake off
the track by her lies about Hollis and the girl. And even later in their first
confrontation scene #37 over the girl, Evelyn still misleads him by only
telling him that she's her sister. She is a very good actress and
successfully keeps her secret from Jake for a long time. Jake believes, in
this scene and until the climatic moment of revelation, that Evelyn
caused Hollis' death.
Another clue drops. Jake notices the "C" on the envelope in which she
sent his check. She reveals that her name is Cross. This seems like a
banal piece of information, but Jake will later find that it's an important
clue to what's going on.

Jake makes his first explicit statement that he thinks Hollis was
murdered over the water issue. He doesn't know why, but he at least has
figured out that it was murder, not an accident.

Finally, Jake tells Evelyn that he still thinks she's hiding something. He's
not satisfied with her explanation. Jake doesn't know what's going on,
but he knows that it's not what it appears to be. So he continues his hunt
for the truth.

22. Jake at Water and Power department. Photos of Mulwray and


Cross.

The importance of repetition.

Notice the structure of the film is built on a number of scene repetitions.

o Jake at the LA river with the boy on the horse (#5 & 18).
o At the LA river drain into the ocean (#6 & 40).
o At the Mulwrays' pool (#14, 41 & 49).
o At Water Department (#12 & 22).
o At Oak Pass Reservoir (#15 & 19).
o Mrs. Mulwray and Jake at his office (#3 & 24).
o Jake with Evelyn at her house (#14 & 31-34).
o Jake at Hideaway house (#36-37 & 42).

In Jake's second visit to the Water Department, Polanski uses the


photographs on the wall as the means of revealing three dramatic pieces
of information. We join with Jake as he causally looks at the photgraphs
as a means of passing the time waiting for Yelburton.

Dramatic camera technique. Jake walks to the wall and then a pov of the
man in the photos arguing with Mulwray. Then a slow tilt down the
photo to the name: Noah Cross. The slow tilt down simulates Jake's pov,
but also is a means of creating suspense. What will the camera reveal
when it gets to the bottom of the photo?

Then a cut to close-up of Jake's hand holding Evelyn's evelope. The shot
maintains Jake's pov as we see him fingering the initial "C" on the
envelope. So the camera work makes the connection for us. We know
along with Jake that Evelyn is Cross' daughter.

After sitting a while waiting for Yelburton, Jake gets up and walks to
another spot on the wall. A pov focuses on the names on the frame:
Hollis Mulwray and Noah Cross 1925. This time Polanski reverses the
camera movement by slowly tilting up to reveal the two men together.
The camera maintains the pov shot and tilts slowly up to another photo
just above the first one. Another photo of the two men. As the camera is
moving up, the dialogue begins with Jake asking about Cross working
for the Water department. A clever bit of camera suspense and
revelation, beautifully synced with the dialogue that will explain what
the photos mean.

As Jake is dragging reluctant information from the secretary, he walks to


the other wall and looks at a couple of more photographs of Mulwray
and Cross. This time Polanski varies his camera technique by a cut to a
close-up from the side of Jake looking at a photo of Cross and Mulwray
standing by a large water pipe.

As Jake is looking the secretary grudgingly reveals the last great surprise
in a terrific piece of dialogue that gradually delivers bits of information
that end with a shock. First, she reveals that Noah Cross once owned the
Water Department. Finally, that Cross and Mulwray were partners.

The camera cuts back to the same side close-up of Jake and then tracks
from the front him as he moves down the wall. Instead of a cut, the
camera smoothly swings to show us what he's looking at: another photo
of a young Cross and Mulwray. Jake's face is reflected in the glass of the
photograph. Then a cut to a reaction shot of Jake thinking about what
he's seeing.

This is all shocking news. Little by little a very complex interrelationship


between Hollis, Evelyn and Cross and the water controversy is
emerging. But at this point it's still quite confusing.
23. Jake and Yelburton.

After picking up the information about Hollis and Cross, Jake confronts
Yelburton with his latest theory about what is going on. He accuses
Yelburton and city "big shots" of using a fake Mrs. Mulwray to hire him
to try to ruin Mulwray's reputation. Then when Hollis found out about
the water dumping, they drowned him. Pretty good detective work based
on the facts he's uncovered. But, of course, he's also wrong because he
doesn't yet understand what Hollis had actually uncovered--what the real
plot is.

Naturally, Yelburton denies Jake's charges. But he does give Jake a lead
by explaining that the Department was sending water to help the farmers
in the Valley and the "water dumping" was actually only a little spill-
over from that action.

24. Evelyn and Jake at his office.

Another scene repetition. This time the real Mrs. Mulwray comes to hire
Jake to find out the truth about her husband's death. So Jake is officially
on the murder case. Jake only knows Hollis' death is connected to the
water dumping in some way and that it's about money.

The other focus of the scene is on Jake questioning Evelyn about Cross.
When he reveals that he knows Cross is her father, Evelyn is visibly
upset. Nice use of the two lighted cigarettes to indicate her state.

The scene is important because it sheds further light on the relationship


between Hollis and Cross and Evelyn. Mulwray and Cross were partners
in owning the Water company; Hollis convinced Cross to make the
Company publically-owned; their relationship ended when the dam that
Cross convinced Hollis to build, collapsed. Evelyn married her father's
partner, Hollis.

A key fact emerges. Evelyn says that Hollis and Noah split over the dam
failure and never talked to each other again. Jake doesn't tell her that
Hollis and Cross had been arguing in the last few days. Why doesn't Jake
tell her? Perhaps because he doesn't trust her. He thinks Evelyn does
know that they were arguing about the girl. That maybe Evelyn is
involved with Hollis' death and the girl's disappearance. In any case,
Jake shifts the conversation to Cross as her father.

Evelyn's reactions to her father are perfect. She's quite upset. She acts as
if she's hiding something. Which she is. But the irony is that the cause of
the upset is not what it appears to be. Only in retrospect, can we know
why Evelyn is so unnerved at the mention of her father.

Technique: shot/countershot for the dialogue. The camera stays with


Evelyn most of the time so the audience can see her reactions to Jake's
questions about her father. A couple of close-ups of Evelyn's hands,
fumbling with her cigarette case and putting out one of her two lit
cigarettes dramatize her nervousness.

25. Jake and Noah Cross at his Catalina ranch. Albacore flag and
Albacore Club sign. (C. 7)
26.
27. CROSS
28. Who's the investigating
officer?
29.
30. GITTES
31. Lou Escobar -- he's a
Lieutenant.
32.
33. CROSS
34. Do you know him?
35.
36. GITTES
37. Oh yes.
38.
39. CROSS
40. Where from?
41.
42. GITTES
43. -- We used to work
together in Chinatown.
44.
45. --------------------------------------------------------------
----------------
46.
47.
48. CROSS
49. You may think you know what you're
50. dealing with, but believe me, you
51. don't.
52.
53. This stops Gittes. He seems faintly mused by
it.
54.
55. CROSS
56. Why is that funny?
57.
58. GITTES
59. It's what the D.A. used to tell me
60. in Chinatown.
61.

Opens with the cut to a MCU of an flag with an image of an albacore


and the letters, A C on it. This is the fourth incident involving a
reference to albacore. Here the sudden MCU directs attention sharply on
the flag. The filmmaker wants us to register this flag. We see the famous
round-domed building in the background and we know we're on Catalina
Island.

The next cut shows Jake walking through a doorway that has a sign on it:
"Albacore Club." It's a small detail in the scene that Jake doesn't see,
which is there for the the audience to notice. The fifth reference to
"albacore." A reference that now makes an explicit connection. In this
scene, the initial flag and then the sign tell us we're at the "Albacore
Club," which is an exclusive sport fishing group dedicated to albacore
fishing.

( An aside: The meaning of "albacore" in the film is quite complex and


we'll see how the film develops it to its climax in a few more scenes. It
adds a bit of richness to the reference if one knows the significance of
the albacore fish in Southern California. The albacore has a long history
of being the premiere sports fishing prize in Southern California. In the
thirty's and forty's in Balboa and Newport Beach and Catalina, the
albacore was king. Albacore flags were ubiquitous. Sports fishing boats
flew albacore flags to indicate they had had a successful catch. The
filmmaker's choice of "albacore" to develop into a major symbol was
therefore no accident. The film plays on the allusion to this famous fish.
Every viewer in LA would know what this fish represented. Of course,
one doesn't have to know this rich history of the albacore to understand
the careful and subtle way in which references to the fish are woven into
the story.)
Notice the grand entrance of Noah Cross. We've seen Cross in the two
sets of photographs--Walsh's and then on the wall at the DWP. Polanski
gives Noah Cross in the flesh a dramatic entrance. He shoots him in a
long shot from inside the car so that Jake and we see him framed through
the windshield. A great establishing shot.

Now the dialogue scene. This is a brilliant scene between Cross and
Jake. Houston is fantastic. He radiates power, force and threat. Jake is
the cool witty dialogue partner. A beautifully written scene in which the
dialogue oscillates between witty banter and a fierce battle of wills.

One of the key functions of the scene is to begin to explicitly state the
major theme of the film.

o The first point. In a seemingly innocuous question, Cross asks


about Escobar. Jake responds by saying that they worked together
in Chinatown. So there it is: Chinatown mentioned for the second
time.
o Now the major thematic statement, which comes from Cross: You
may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you
don't. Brilliant piece of writing. Have the great villain of the story,
the one who does know what's going on because he's the one
controlling events, the one who is the murderer of Hollis
Mulwray, speak the truth.
o Now comes the connection with Chinatown. Jake's response to
Cross's statement is to say: It's what the D.A. used to tell me in
Chinatown. So we begin to see what the carefully developed
references to Chinatown mean. Chinatown is the place in LA
where one doesn't know what's going on. Notice Jake doesn't
say anything about unusual corruption, violence and crime as the
defining characteristic of Chinatown. No. It's Cross's words: You
may think you know what you're dealing with, but you don't. We
want to track how this aspect of Chinatown is developed
throughout the rest of the film.

By the end of the lunch Jake has agreed to work for Cross. Cross has
convinced Jake that he's worried about his daughter Evelyn and wants
Jake to find the girl as a way of helping her. Cross has insinuated that
Evelyn may be a threat to the girl out of jealousy. This reinforces Jake's
suspicions about Evelyn. The final irony is that the meeting enacts the
truth of Cross's words: Jake doesn't know what's going on.
Technique: Great subtle mobile camera work. This is the longest
dialogue scene in the film. Polanski handles it almost entirely in a two-
shot format with subtle camera reframing movements. Here is the shot
sequence:

o The camera is set up at the side of Cross and frames them both.
The conversation goes on in this shot.
o A brief insert of a CU of Jake's fish.
o Cut back to previous shot.
o Cut to close-up reaction shot of Jake as he responds to Cross'
insults. Jake stands up and the camera moves slightly to follow
him. He now turns and addresses Cross from a standing position
within the same shot.
o Cut to Jake's slightly high angle pov of Cross at the table. Cross
delivers his key lines about Jake not knowing what's going on,
from the angle looking up at Jake.
o Reverse shot to same camera angle of Jake standing. The camera
follows him as he sits down and we're back to a two shot of them
at the table. Nice movement within the frame. Cross stands up and
walks in back of Jake looking out at the passing parade of Sheriff
supporters that he lets use his ranch (nice detail: Cross owns the
Sheriff). They continue talking, Jake's face in foreground and
Cross in background.
o A reverse shot--a cut to CU of Cross from the side, which also
includes Jake at the table. This sets up the dramatic moment when
Jake tells Cross that he has pictures of him arguing with Hollis at
the Pig and Whistle. A fine face reaction by Huston. Jake gets up,
faces Cross and moves next to him as they continue talking.

The long takes allow for maximum focus on the natural dialogue and
physical interaction between the actors. Constant movement of various
kinds in the frame to keep the image visually interesting and their
interaction dynamic. Standing and sitting and moving around each other,
shifting the angle in which they speak to one another. So smooth.
Artfully done.

62. Jake at the Hall of Records. (C. 8)


63. Jake and the orange farmers.
The major function of these two scenes is to further the plot. At the Hall
of Records, Jake pursues his hunches about money being behind
Mulwray's death. He's following up something Yelburton let slip--the
Water Department was diverting water to the Northwest valley. He does
find the clue he's looking for: the large number of recent purchases of
valley land.

This discovery leads to his trip to the orange groves. This scene provides
a change of pace--a good action chase scene and comic dialogue
between Jake and the farmers who attack him. Also, the key bit of
information that the Yelburton's claim that the Water Department is
diverting water to help the farmers is false. The farmers say the Water
department is their enemy who is trying to drive them out of business by
blowing up their water tanks and poisoning their wells.

Finally, the scene connects Jake and Evelyn who saves him from the
farmers.

64. Jake and Evelyn in her car. (C. 9)

Jake reveals to Evelyn that he's figured out the reason for Hollis' murder.
The controversy over building the dam was a smoke-screen. Hollis was
killed because he discovered that the real plot was the land-grab in the
San Fernando Valley and the plan to bring it the water supply needed for
its development.

Jake also figures out another part of the plot when he suddenly
remembers that a name from the obituary column matches a name of one
of the recent Valley property buyers. It's this discovery that sets up the
next scene: the visit to the Mar Vista Rest Home.

Technique: Simple two shot of them driving in the car from Evelyn's
side. A close-up of Jake's pov reading Jasper Crabb's name in the
Obituary column.

65. Jake and Evelyn at the Mar Vista Rest Home. Albacore flag.
Jake confirms his deductions by seeing that the names of the recent
buyers are living at the Rest Home.

As he's talking to Emma Dill, one of the recent buyers, who, of course,
knows nothing about her recent purchase, he spots the quilt that she and
others are working on. There it is again: The Albacore Club flag. The
third time in the film. Emma Dill tells him that the Albacore Club gives
the folks at the Rest Home lots of good things beside this flag for their
quilt. Palmer, the Home Director, interrupts before Emma can explain.
He says the Albacore Club sponsors the Home.

So now we begin to see that the references to albacore have been


carefully placed by the filmmaker. Each reference is another small clue
leading to who's behind the plot that Jake has uncovered. We still have a
couple of more scenes before we find out the ultimate significance of
"albacore."

The final bit. Jake encounters Mulvilhill for the third time. Mulvilhill's
presence connects the Rest Home with Yelburton and the Water
Department in the underlying land and water plot.

Technique: Always the mobile camera with long takes and constant
reframing as the camera follows Jake and Evelyn around. The most
interesting camera moment is when Jake is talking to Emma Dill and
looks down at the quilt she's working on. The standard technique would
be a cut to Jake's pov. Instead, Polanski uses a slow camera tilt to show
us what Jake is looking at. The advantage of this technique is that it
creates a bit of suspense as the camera slowly moves down to reveal
what Jake has noticed. The camera then further guides us by moving into
a close-up of the albacore flag as Emma explains what it is.

66. Jake and Evelyn escape Mulvihill and the man in white.

Evelyn arrives with the car just in the nick of time to prevent the man
with the knife and Mulvihill from catching Jake. It's the second time
Evelyn has saved his ass. They make a good team.
Technique: This brief transition scene in the car is shot from in front of
the car, framing them through the windshield. The theme music begins
in this scene and carries over into the next big scene at Evelyn's house.
The elegaic music signals the beginning of the tender and sad moment of
intimacy between Jake and Evelyn.

67. Evelyn and Jake at her house. (C. 10)


68. EVELYN
69. Tell me, Mr. Gittes. Does this often
70. happen to you?
71.
72. GITTES
73. What's that?
74.
75. EVELYN
76. I'm judging only on the basis
77. of one afternoon and an evening, but
78. if this is how you go about your
work,
79. I'd say you'd be lucky to get through
80. a whole day.
81.
82. GITTES
83. Actually this hasn't happened to me
84. for a long time.
85.
86. EVELYN
87. When was the last time?
88.
89. GITTES
90. Why?
91.
92. EVELYN
93. It's an innocent question.
94.
95. GITTES
96. In Chinatown.
97.
98. EVELYN
99. What were you doing there?
100.
101. GITTES
102. Working for the District Attorney.
103.
104. EVELYN
105. Doing what?
106.
107. GITTES
108. As little as possible.
109.
110. EVELYN
111. The District Attorney gives his men
112. advice like that?
113.
114. GITTES
115. They do in Chinatown.
116. .

The first moment of intimacy after their escape. The way they physically
interact with each other focuses attention on their sudden attraction.

Notice first the quality of the dialogue. The dominant characteristic of


Towne's dialogue is less is more. He's a master of the understatement
and suggestion that is communicated by pacing and simple but
ambiguous statements.

Nice banter between two equally articulate people. Very much like the
dialogue scenes between Marlowe and Vivian in The Big Sleep. Jake
begins with thanking Evelyn for saving his ass--neck. A witty move
from his lingo to the lady's. They both enjoy his linguistic performance.

Then it's Evelyn's turn for witty banter as she teases him about his
work: I'm only judging on the basis of one afternoon and an evening, but
if that's how you go about your work, I'd say you're lucky to get through
a whole day. A lovely bit piece of repartee. However, besides showing
off Evelyn's wit and engagement with Jake, it's a brilliant lead-in to
another crucial thematic statement.

Jake tells her that this kind of day hasn't happened to him for quite
awhile. Notice the form of the dialogue. A series of questions and
answers. Evelyn asks the simple questions; Jake gives the answers. And
here it is again: It was in Chinatown. But now another surprising and
intriguing statement from Jake. Evelyn's question, Doing what? And the
answer: As little as possible. What a strange answer. Evelyn registers the
shock: The District Attorney gives his men advice like that? And Jake's
answer: They do in Chinatown.

Two points.

o This bit of dialogue is a repetition with elaboration of the


exchange about Chinatown that Jake had with Cross that morning
(# 25). This is now the third time Chinatown has been mentioned
in a conversation (#15 & 25). It's this kind of repetition that
gradually creates the symbolic meaning.
As little as possible turns out to be the key thematic statement of
the film. A great phrase. But what does it mean? There is
something about Chinatown that makes this good advice. But
what is it? Remember these are Jake's last words as he gazes at the
dead Evelyn and her screaming daughter: As little as possible.

Evelyn expresses her confusion. What a strange advice to give the


police. But just as she tries to find out what Jake means, he deftly
changes the subject.

Technique: The dialogue is presented in two long takes, using Polanski's


preferred mode of shooting dialogue in two-shots. In the first shot, the
camera frames Jake at a distance. He walks towards the camera and then
Evelyn enters the frame from the right closer to the camera. The camera
remains fixed with Jake facing straight into the camera and Evelyn from
over her left shoulder. They stand close to one another talking and
drinking. The flow of conversation is easy as they move around within
the frame. Evelyn turns her head occasionally so we see her full face as
well as her profile as she talks to Jake.

The second shot reverses the angle to a medium close-up of Jake's back
with Evelyn facing the camera. Evelyn walks to her left and the camera
pans slightly to follow her, leaving Jake off frame. So the attention is
focused on Evelyln as they continue to talk. She walks in a small circle
and comes up close to Jake so at the climatic moment in which Jake talks
about Chinatown, the camera frames them close up face to face in
profile.

The virtue of these long takes is that they focus on the acting--the bodily
movements and facial responses. Having them both in the same frame
captures the dynamic of sexual, bodily communication that is taking
place between them beneath and through their words.

117. Evelyn and Jake in the bathroom.

Here they are literally face to face. Great sexual energy as Evelyn
ministers to Jake. Here's the injured detective, wounded in that part of
his anatomy that is symbolic of his profession. One wounded character
looking into the eyes of another. Jake suddenly notices a spot in Evelyn's
eye. Again a moment of intimacy as she haltingly explains that it's a
flaw--a birthmark. The subtlety of the dialogue. These hesitant words
convey the reality of her family tragedy. Evelyn indeed is flawed by her
inheritance. This scene is preparing the symbolism of the ending. Evelyn
will be shot through that flawed eye. (This seems to me Towne's riff on
the Sternwoods in The Big Sleep. The physical defects of Carmen
Sternwood--her abnormal thumbs that are fingers and her mental and
emotional defects--are the physical embodiment of the corruption of the
rich family. The rich are by definition corrupt. You can make an honest
dollar, but not an honest million. The physical abnormalities of the
children of the rich are the tragic result of their parents' greed and
corruption.)

So now the moment of passion as the two wounded ones come together.

Technique: Shot in close-up from the neck up. Shot/counter shot as they
look at each other literally face to face. So much depends on their facial
acting and the intimacy that grows from looking directly at each other's
eyes at such a close distance. The physical closeness turns into sexual
passion. The theme music begins as they kiss to intensify the romance of
the moment.

118. Jake and Evelyn in bed.


119. EVELYN
120. You really don't like to talk about the past, do you?
121.

122. GITTES
123. I'm tired.

124. EVELYN
125. No. Why does it bother you to talk about it?
126.

127. GITTES
128. It bothers everybody that works there.
129. EVELYN
130. Where?
131.

132. GITTES

Chinatown. Everybody. To me, it was just bad luck.

EVELYN
Why?

GITTES

You can't always tell what's going on.

Like with you.

EVELYN

Why was it bad luck?

GITTES

I was trying to keep someone from

being hurt. I ended up

making sure that she was hurt.

EVELYN

Cherchez la femme. Was there a woman involved?

GITTES

Of course.

EVELYN

Dead?

Polanski altered Towne's script by adding this scene of Jake and Evelyn
talking in bed after making love. He changed the preceding bathroom
scene in two major ways in order to integrate this additional scene of
them in bed.

First, he turns their physically intimate encounter of Evelyn cleaning his


nose wound and his sudden discovery of her eye "flaw" into a moment
of sexual passion as they kiss.

Second, he deftly removes the dialogue about Chinatown that takes place
while she's cleaning his nose and places it as their dialogue in bed.

I believe that the revisions and additions made the scenes more effective
dramatically in several ways.

o First, the script's version of the bathroom scene is too dense. On


the one hand it focuses on their intimate physical contact that
creates a suspenseful charge of sexual excitement, which is
realized at the close of the scene. On the other hand, the dialogue
about Jake's experience in Chinatown is of central importance to
the theme of the film. Mixing the sexually charged moment with
the moment of thematic statement shifts the dramatic focus from
the dialogue to the acting out of sexual attraction. The
significance of the dialogue gets lost in the physical encounter.
o Polanski resolves the issue by separating the moments. By adding
the scene of them in bed in a moment of intimacy after their
physical passion has been spent, he sharpens the focus on the
dialogue. He picks up the dramatic suspense of Jake's enigmatic
statement about doing "as little as possible" in Chinatown, which
was broken off by the trip to the bathroom, and resolves it by
Jake's talk about his experience in Chinatown.

This little bit of dialogue contains the meaning of "Chinatown." In a few


words, Jake explains to Evelyn the characteristic of Chinatown that
made working there such a bad experience: You can't always tell what's
going on.

The key aspect of Chinatown is not that it is an unusually corrupt or


violent part of Los Angeles, but that "You can't always tell what's
going on." This statement explains Jake's earlier assertion that he did "as
little as possible" in Chinatown. If you can't understand what's going on,
then how can you act? The solution: do as little as possible.
But Jake's statement is still enigmatic, to say the least. What he never
explains is why it's hard to figure out what is going on in Chinatown.
What is it about Chinatown that makes it different from Westwood or
Hollywood or Compton or East LA?

The film never directly answers that question. It just assumes that
viewers, like all the characters in the film, know why what goes on in
Chinatown is incomprehensible. And we do. We understand that the
world of Chinatown is difficult to comprehend because we grew up with
the ethnic stereotype which underlies Jake's experience: the Inscrutable
Oriental. It was simply a fact of life for the dominant Anglo population
of LA in the 30's and 40's that the Orientals--Chinese, Japanese, Korean,
et al--were inscrutable because their language and customs were alien to
the dominant white population. The behavior of Orientals was
impossible to interpret because they weren't like us. Jake says it bothers
everybody that works there. Well, yes. Because the cops who worked in
Chinatown were not "Oriental." Surely, no Chinese cop would ever say
that he couldn't always tell what's going on.

Notice Jake's sudden shift from explaining his Chinatown experience to


making the same point about Evelyn. You can't always tell what's going
on. Like with you. Ironically, Jake is right. He doesn't know what's going
on with her. Yet he will ignore what he learned in Chinatown and will
continue to act on his misunderstanding of what he thinks she's up to,
with disastrous consequences.

Evelyn deflects his reference to her and asks him why it was bad luck for
him in Chinatown. His answer is a beautiful form of dramatic irony. I
was trying to keep someone from being hurt. I ended up making sure that
she was hurt.

This dialogue is preparing the audience for understanding the series of


events that issue in the tragic ending of the film. Jake doesn't know
what's going on with Evelyn. His misunderstanding of her actions will
set in motion the series of events that will issue in the tragic ending.
When he does finally find out the truth, he then tries to help her escape
the police he had called on her. His desperate actions issue in a replay of
the story he tells her here in bed.

Jake's tragedy is that he ignored what he learned in Chinatown: Do as


little as possible because You can't always tell what's going on.
Technique: Only one take. Great camera movement. The cut picks up a
match from the last scene that focused on Evelyn's hand. This shot
begins with a close-up of Jake's hang stretched out from the bed. The
camera slowly pans from right to left, revealing a direct overhead shot of
them in bed. The slow pan again creates suspense because we don't
know exactly what we're seeing until the camera comes to a halt. This
simple cut is an ellipsis. It has left out the actual sexual activity and
shows the result: the two physically relaxed and intimate as they begin to
talk after their passion. Once the camera has panned to frame them both,
it remains stationary for the whole scene. The overhead shot is a medium
close-up that frames them from the chest up. The peaceful moment after
sex is reinforced by the soft playing of the theme in the background. The
acting is perfect. Both Dunaway and Nichelson engage in intimate body
and facial acting. They communicate a close physical intimacy as
Dunaway continually lovingly touches his chest and face. Jack's face
acting is great as his smiling communicates a kind of peace and pleasure
in her physical presence. He also smokes with great gestural effect which
also communicates a pleasurable relaxation. Out of this physical contact
the dialogue is perfectly placed as Jake expresses the meaning of
"Chinatown."

133. Evelyn gets a phone call. Cross owns the Albacore Club.

A great dramatic shift. Just as Evelyn is continuing to ask questions


about Jake's experience in Chinatown, the phone rings (Notice the
technique of using the phone to create suspense. A ringing phone always
creates suspense because we cannot know what news it will bring. A
phone call frequently signals a major shift in the action. Compare
Hitchcock's use of the phone in Rear Window.) The sudden intrusion
breaks the conversation and leaves us hanging. We never will know
exactly what happened to Jake in Chinatown.

Evelyn is upset and has to leave, but won't tell Jake where or why. Then
almost as an after thought, she explains the significance of the Albacore
Flag at the Rest home. Her father owns the Albacore Club. This is the
final mention of albacore. Now we see how the film has created albacore
as a symbol. By means of repetition from Curly's first mentioning of
albacore through all the carefully developed references, albacore
becomes a metonymy for Cross--it stands for him. Once we find out that
he owns the Albacore Club, we understand he's the one behind the plot
to buy the Valley and divert the water.

A further surprise. Jake already knows this. He knows something that


Polanski, for the first time, withholds from the viewer. In retrospect, we
realize that Jake figured it out as he walked through the Albacore Club
when he arrived at Catalina to meet Cross. Only very attentive viewers
would have made the connection between Cross and the Albacore Club.
It's never a topic of conversation between Jake and Cross. So for us, this
is the moment of the revelation of the meaning of The Albacore Club.

This news leads to a discussion of Noah Cross. Evelyn is visibly upset in


talking about her father. She only gives vague answers about her
relationship and warns Jake that her father is a dangerous man.

Jake is blunt: You're telling me he's in back of this whole thing? Evelyn
demurs and says possibly. But before Jake can ask her any more
questions, she cuts the conversation and gets ready to leave.

My question is why doesn't Jake know what's going on now? It should


be crystal clear that Cross is behind the water plot and is involved in
Hollis' death. He should have known this the minute he made the
connection between Cross and the Albacore Club. So why this glitch in
the plot? Why is Jake suddenly so thick-headed that he doesn't figure it
out?

My answer is suspense. The other plot line--Evelyn and the girl-- has to
be played out before we can reach the final revelation. Chinatown is
structured around these two plot lines: The money plot--land and water,
and the jealousy plot--Evelyn and the other woman. Jake now has
figured out the money plot--Noah Cross.

But the phone call shifts the attention back to Evelyn and the girl. Their
tender moment of intimacy is over. Jake's mistrust of Evelyn returns.
Remember that Jake is also working for Noah Cross. He believes that
Evelyn is hiding something--that she is in some way involved with the
missing mystery girl. Jake misinterprets Evelyn's refusal to tell him
where she's going as an indication of guilt. So while she's in the shower
he breaks a tail-light so he can follow her.

Technique: Polanski varies his technique a bit. Nice long takes. The first
one begins with Jake's pov of Evelyn's back as she's talking on the
phone. Then she turns to him and is now the center of the shot as she
talks to him off frame. Then Jake raises up into the frame and we now
have a two shot as they continue talking about her father and the fact that
he owns the Albacore Club.

Polanski changes pace by having Evelyn move out of the frame into the
bathroom. Then Jake's pov of her emerging from the bathroom. She's the
focus of the shot now as she walks across the room. Now Polanski shifts
to a series of shot/counter shots for the rest of the dialogue.

134. Jake tails Evelyn. (C. 11)

This brief scene of Jake following Evelyn functions to build suspense.


What is he going to find out?

135. Jake watches through the window.

Another structural repetition. Jake looking through the window at Evelyn


and the girl is a repeat of his looking at Hollis and the girl in the boat and
at the apartment. He thinks he understands what's going on, but he
doesn't. He completely misreads what he's seeing.

136. Jake confronts Evelyn about the girl.

Jake confronts Evelyn with what he thinks he saw through the window--
that Evelyn is holding the girl captive. Evelyn denies Jake's accusation.
Jake threatens to take her to the police. Evelyn finally gives Jake an
explanation. The girl is her sister. A great plot idea. Evelyn tells the
truth--but not all of it. Jake handily supplies her with a rationale for her
actions. Hollis was having an affair with her sister and Evelyn was trying
to protect both of them from the scandal.
Dramatically, this scene is a setup for its repetition when Evelyn will
finally tell the whole truth. After that moment of revelation, we will
understand Evelyn's actions in this scene. She still hoping to keep hidden
her awful family secret.

Also the introduction of another seemingly minor detail that will take on
great significance by repetition. Evelyn, in her agony over trying to tell
Jake about the girl, accidently hits the horn with her forehead. This detail
is preparing us for the final scene when we will hear this sound again.

Great ending to the scene. Evelyn wants Jake to come back home with
her. But for Jake it's over. Their momentary connection has been
shattered. After Jake leaves, the camera lingers on Evelyn's face
registering her anguish at the loss of what might have been with Jake
(This ending seems an allusion to the last scene between Vivian and
Marlowe in The Big Sleep. Their potential love relationship is thwarted
by the corruption of her family.).

137. Jake at home. Phone call that Ida wants to see him. (C. 12)

This scene has two functions. First, we see Jake at his emotional low-
point. All this is communicated by bodily language. His facial
expressions indicate that he's been through the emotional wringer with
Evelyn. He did fall for her. And then the sudden return of his suspicions
about what's going on with her. He goes to bed with the look of defeat
and disappointment.

But then the phone rings. Again the use of the phone to bring a plot shift.
The caller tells him Ida Sessions wants to see him. At first he rejects the
caller. But after the next call he decides to go. Now the suspense of what
he's going to find out begins.

138. Jake finds Ida's corpse and Escobar.

This was a set-up for Jake and he easily falls for it. Ida has been
murdered. Escobar has been tipped and is waiting for Jake with the
photos he took of Hollis and the girl. The plot function of the scene is to
mislead the cops. Escobar rightly thinks that the evidence points to
Evelyn Mulwray as the killer and Jake knew about it and was
blackmailing her. Again, the function of the photographs is to mislead.
It's been essential to the Evelyn and the other woman plot line to make it
appear that Evelyn is responsible for Hollis' death. Cross has very
cleverly manipulated events to make it look like Hollis' death was a
crime of passion, which hides the real motive. Cross is so ruthless that
he's willing to destroy his own daughter to get what he wants.

The other crucial point is that Escobar now believes Hollis had been
murdered because he had salt water in his lungs, so therefore had been
planted in the reservoir to make it appear a suicide. This is a crucial
piece of information that is setting up the moment of recognition in
Scene #41 when Jake hears "Salt water bad for glass."

Jake tries to convince Escobar that he's got it wrong. That the real issue
is money--the land and the water. He at least convinces Lou to go to the
drainage spot at the ocean where Jake had first tailed Hollis.

139. Escobar and Jake at oceanfront drain.

Structurally, this is another repetition scene. Jake takes Escobar to the


ocean with the hope of convincing him that what's behind the murders of
Hollis and Sessions is not what it seems to be, but is really about the land
and water scam. The nice irony of the scene is that what now appears as
a clear piece of evidence to Jake because he's connected what Hollis was
doing here the time he tailed him with all the other facts he's discovered
about the water diversion, doesn't make any sense at all to Escobar. Just
like Jake's first experience here didn't make any sense to him because he
had no context for understanding it.

Because they've been friends in the past, Escobar give Jake a chance to
bring Evelyn in. Which sets up the next scene.

140. Jake at Mulwray's house. "Salt water very bad for glass."
Great scene of repetition. Jake returns to the scene of the crime.

A great idea. Use the gardner's broken English to trigger the recognition
scene. Again a repetition with variation. The first time Jake mocked the
gardner's mispronunciation: "Bad for the glass," by repeating the
fractured phrase, without making any attempt to understand what he was
saying. The first time, Jake spotted something shiny in the pool, but
forgot about it when Evelyn appeared.

This time when he sees the gardner, he mocks him again:Yeah, yeah bad
for the glass. The gardner responds by repeating his earlier phrase, but
then adds: Salt water very bad for glass. This triggers Jake's recognition
because he remembers that Escobar told him Hollis had drowned in salt
water.

Jake runs to the pool and discovers the broken glasses. Now he knows
that Hollis was murdered in his own pool.

141. Jake confronts Evelyn. The truth. Not Hollis' glasses. (C. 13)

Jake acts on what he thinks is going on. He bursts in on Evelyn and calls
the police to come and get her because he believes she murdered Hollis.
Nice dramatic opening.

Jake confronts Evelyn with the glasses. He asks if they were Hollis'.
Evelyn, confused by what Jake is saying, tentatively answers: I don't
know. I mean, yes, probably. This is proof enough for Jake and he
accuses her of killing Hollis in the tide pool out of jealousy.
Furthermore, Jake now spins out a new theory of why Evelyn had been
hiding the girl--she was a witness to the murder and was blackmailing
Evelyn. Quite a persuasive explanation of the facts. The detective has
finally figured out what is going on.

Jake gets aggressive and demands once and for all that Evelyn tell him
who the girl is. Jake slaps her around, angerly demanding the truth.

Now the dramatic climax of the film. A great moment in which


Dunaway does her best acting. Great speech, achingly suspenseful as she
holds off to the last possible moment speaking the painful, humiliating
truth. Her withering sarcasm strikes Jake dumb. All the time Evelyn had
been acting out of good motives--to protect her sister-daughter and to
keep secret the guilty and humiliating truth about her relationship to her
father.

Jake had completely misinterpreted Evelyn's action. Now that he knows,


Jake develops a quick plan to try to save Evelyn and her sister from the
police.

And then, Evelyn, almost as an after thought, drops the final clue: the
glasses aren't Hollis' because they're bifocals. Finally, Jake knows what's
going on. He saw Cross use bifocals at lunch (#25). Again, this
unobtrusive detail from an earlier moment, carefully placed by the
filmmaker, becomes the final clue.

142. Jake calls Walsh. "Jesus, Jake. That's in Chinatown, ain't


it? (C. 14)

Jake now calls Walsh and gives him the address where to meet him and
Evelyn and the girl in order to help them escape to Mexico. What we're
been waiting for: Jesus, Jake. That's in Chinatown, ain't it? Jake's
reaction shot communicates what we're thinking. Chinatown, again. The
place where you don't know what's going on. The place where Jake tried
to help a woman, but ended up hurting her. Going to the place of
repetition.

143. Escobar arrests Jake.

Escobar arrives and Jake lies to protect her. He's going to take Escobar
on a wild-goose chase. But again suspense. We don't know what his plan
is.

144. Jake at Curly's.


145. Jake escapes Escobar in Curly's truck.
146. Curly and Jake pick up Evelyn's bags.

When Curly opens the door, we see why he's in the story. His major plot
function is to provide Jake with a clever means of outwitting Escobar
and a way to Mexico for Evelyn and her daughter. Jake finishes these
brief scenes by sending Curly off with Evelyn's bags. He remains at
Evelyn's.

147. Jake calls Cross. (C. 15)

Nice bit of deception. Jake calls Cross to tell him to bring his checkbook
because he's found the girl. This scene is an important change from the
script. In the script, Jake makes this call to Cross right after he discovers
the glasses in the tide pool (#41). He calls Cross because he's working
for him and he thinks what he's discovered confirms what Cross had
suggested: that Evelyn killed Hollis out of jealousy. Between the time he
makes this good faith call to his employer, Cross, and when they finally
meet at Mulway's, Jake has learned the truth. But when he makes the
call, he actually believes Cross' version.

What's the dramatic difference? In the script, Jake calls Cross because he
has completely misunderstood what's going on. That's a nice dramatic
point. It intensifies the irony that Jake has unwittingly done Cross's work
for him.

I think Polanski changed the position and meaning of the call because he
wanted to keep the suspense of the audience not knowing how Jake
interprets the meaning of the glasses. In the script, the phone call tells
the audience that Jake thinks Evelyn did it. The film doesn't reveal his
misunderstanding until he bursts in on Evelyn and calls the police. So
Polanski trades the irony of Jake's call to Cross revealing what he thinks
to the real killer, for the more intense dramatic irony of his ignorance in
the scene with Evelyn. I think Polanski's was right. The most powerful
scene in the film is Evelyn's revelation. That scene depends on Jake
being righteously ignorant, angerly demanding the truth. If he had
already told Cross what he thought was the truth, Jake would not have
confronted her in this way. He would have manipulated Evelyn and the
girl into going back to Mulwray's where they would meet Cross, his
employer, as he suggested he would in the phone call in the script.

148. Jake and Cross at Mulwray's.

This is the third repetition of action at the scene of the crime. Only this
time Jake gets it right. He confronts Cross with the glasses he found in
the tide pool.

This scene is the fourth great dialogue scene in the film. The first was
Jake and Cross at lunch (#25); the second, Evelyn and Jake at her house
(#31-34); the third, Evelyn tells the truth (#42).

Jake cleverly uses the glasses to flush Cross out. He asks him to read the
obituary column. Cross brings out a pair of bifocals to read. He repeats
the same gesture of reading with his glasses that he used at their lunch.
Again the repetition of this detail creates the glasses as a synecdoche for
Cross--a part representing the whole. His difficulty reading without them
suggests something essential about his character--a failure of sight, a
certain kind of blindness.

Like in the lunch scene, this dialogue belongs to Noah Cross. He is


frighteningly articulate in spelling out his dark lusts for power and
control over people and even the future. He defends himself, including
his incest with Evelyn, by voicing a terrible rationalization of his evil: I
don't blame myself. You see, Mr. Gitts, most people never have to face
the fact that at the right time and right place, they're capable of
anything.

Now the sudden reversal. Even as he admits what he's done, he calls
Mulvihill to take the glasses from Jake. Mulvihill's appearance confirms
that he's been working for Cross all along. Cross sent Mulvihill and the
man in white to intimidate Jake; he "owns" Yelburton and the Water
Department, the Mar Vista Rest Home as well the Albacore Club.

Jake seems naive not to have realized that Cross wouldn't come alone.
But then the plot needs this reversal to drive it forward to its conclusion.
Technique: Polanski repeats his favorite mode of shooting dialogue: the
whole scene is one long take. A great beginning as the camera is placed
behind Jake who's off frame. Cross enters the frame from a long distance
away at the entrance to the house. Polanski thus repeats the method he
used with Cross' first live entrance into the story on Catalina-- creating a
dramatic and suspenseful entrance by first viewing Cross from a
distance.

Most of the scene is shot with Jake and Cross in profile, with some
movement from the hallway to the pool--the scene of the crime--as the
dialogue reaches its climax with Cross' withering self-defense.

149. Jake and Cross arrive in Chinatown. (C. 16) [Transcript of


Final Scene.; Towne's Script: Final Scene]

This scene is without dialogue. A simple car ride into Chinatown. The
slow ride coupled with the music function to build the tension and
suspense: What's going to happen in Chinatown?

150. Jake, Cross and Escobar. "I can explain everything."


"Lou, you don't know what's going on."

The opening moment of the scene suggests Jake has outsmarted Cross
because when he gets out of the car, he leads them right to his guys,
Walsh and Duffy. Then a shock. Escobar is there and Jake's guys are
handcuffed. Jake is again relieved when Escobar arrests him because it
means he's escaped from Cross.

Jake says, I can explain everything--Lieutenant. Give me five


minutes. But then another reversal: Escobar handcuffs him and won't
listen to him. Escobar is convinced that Evelyn is the killer and Jake an
acessory. Jake frantically tries to explain that Cross is the one behind all
the killings and the water/land plot, but Escobar is beyond trying to
understand him.
And now comes the final repetition of the carefully developed theme.
Jake says, Lou, you don't know what's going on. Notice the irony that it
was Cross who first introduced the theme in his lunch with Jake
(#25): You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me,
you don't. Jake's response was that's what the DA told him in Chinatown.
In Jake's discussion with Evelyn (#31-33), he explained what was so
disturbing about working in Chinatown: You can't always tell what's
going on. Here they are in Chinatown and Lou doesn't know what's
going on.

Technique: The whole scene is one long take. Focuses on the dynamic of
the dialogue between Jake, Escobar and Cross.

151. Cross, Evelyn and Katherine.

Great dramatic moment that's introduced by a cut to Cross's pov shot of


Katherine. He goes after her and confronts Evelyn. They struggle over
Katherine--the daughters and the demonic father. Evelyn pulls a gun.
Jake, who is completely helpless, yells at her from off-screen to let the
police handle it. Another irony--Evelyn thinks that Escobar is there to
help her father: He owns the police! She misunderstands Escobar's
motives, which adds another layer of misinterpretation of what is going
on.

So Evelyn shoots her father and drives away with her daughter.

152. Evelyn drives away. Horn sounds.

Escobar shoots at the fleeing Evelyn because he believes she's the killer.
Jake grabs Escobar to disrupt his shooting, but Loach steps forward and
fires.

Great technique. A long shot of the car leaving. Then the horn sounds
and the car slowly comes to a stop. The sound conveys the meaning:
Evelyn's been shot. The meaning of the horn was carefully prepared
when Jake first confronted Evelyn in her car about the girl. As Evelyn
struggled to explain, she accidently hit the horn with her forehead. So
now we can understand the continuous horn sound. The horn sound is a
metonymy for Evelyn's head on the horn. The screams only confirm
what we already know.

153. Escobar, Jake and Cross at the car.

GITTES

(REACTION SHOT). As little as possible.

ESCOBAR

What's that? What's that? You want to do your partner a big favor? Take
him home. Take him home! Just get him the hell out of here!

DUFFY

Come on, Jake.

ESCOBAR

Go home, Jake. I'm doing you a favor.

DUFFY

Come on Jake.

WALSH

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

The concluding symbolism. The innocent one has been destroyed. Evelyn has been
shot through her defective eye--her inheritance from her father.

Cross now plays the grieving father and caring "grandfather" and takes Katherine
away. He gets it all: the future of LA and Katherine.
Escobar still completely misunderstands what has happened. He lets the evil father
and murderer escape and believes that the guilty Evelyn was accidently killed while
trying to escape.

Jake the detective finally knows the truth of what's going on. But his knowledge is
futile. He can't communicate it to anyone. He has been an impotent spectator at the
tragedy of blind ignorance. Once again, his efforts to save a woman have led to her
destruction.

So now we understand Jake's reaction-shot. He has an expressionless stare at Evelyn's


corpse.

Jake does not get angry. He does not yell and scream at Escobar to listen to him so he
can explain what's going on. He makes no effort to stop Cross from taking Katherine
away. His eyes indicate that he has emotionally withdrawn from the tragic situation.
He mumbles the lesson he failed to learn from the DA in Chinatown: As little as
possible. He has been completely shattered by the experience and retreats into despair.

So the final irony. Walsh's famous words: Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown. But Walsh
doesn't understand either. He doesn't know the meaning of what he's just seen and
experienced. He means to comfort Jake by this glib remark about why all this
happened: Because they were literally in Chinatown. But Jake knows better. What he
has discovered is that it's not just in Chinatown that you can't know what's going on.
It's everywhere. Noah Cross's evil and Evelyn's tragic inheritance did not happen in
Chinatown, but in the richest and most respectable areas of Los Angeles. What Jake's
so painfully learned is that Chinatown represents the whole world. The world is
inscrutable like the Orientals who live in Chinatown. Therefore the only response is to
do "as little as possible."

Technique: One long take beginning with them rushing to the car and ending with
Jake walking away into the distance. The camera movement is particularily dynamic
as it shifts quickly from moving in close to focus on Evelyn's bloody face and missing
eye, to Jake's reaction, to Cross comforting Katherine and taking her away, back to
Jake reaction and his mumbling his last words, to Escobar shouting at him, and finally
to Walsh and Jake, the famous words and the walk down the street.

--------------------------------------
Color coding and underlining of major symbols.

1. Montage of photos. (C. 1)


2. Jake and Curly. Albacore.
3. Jake and Mrs. Mulwray.
4. Jake observes Hollis Mulwray at public hearing. (C. 2)
5. Jake observes Mulwray at the LA river talking to a boy on a horse.
6. Jake observes Mulwray checking water drain at the ocean.
7. Jake's office. Photos of Mulwray arguing with a man. "apple core."
8. Echo Park: Jake takes photos of Mulwray and a girl.
9. El Macondo apartments: Jake taking photos of Mulwray and the girl.
10. The Barber shop: "I make an honest living." (C. 3)
11. Jake's office: The Chinaman joke and Mrs. Mulwray.
12. Jake at Water and Power. Jake and the Albacore .
13. Mulvihill and Jake at the elevator.
14. Jake and Evelyn at Mulwray's. "Bad for glass." (C. 4)
15. Jake and Escobar at the Oak Pass Reservoir. "I'm out of Chinatown."
16. Evelyn and Escobar at Coroner's. Jake lies for Evelyn.(C. 5)
17. Jake at the morgue. Mulwray and the drowned drunk.
18. Jake at Hollenbeck bridge. Talks to the boy on the horse.
19. Jake at the Reservoir. The nosy fellow.
20. Jake's office. Ida Sessions calls.
21. Jake and Evelyn at the Restaurant. (C. 6)
22. Jake at Water and Power department. Photos of Mulwray and Cross.
23. Jake and Yelburton.
24. Evelyn and Jake at his office.
25. Jake and Noah Cross at his Catalina ranch. Albacore flag. (C. 7)
26.
27. CROSS
28. Who's the investigating officer?
29.
30. GITTES
31. Lou Escobar -- he's a
Lieutenant.
32.
33. CROSS
34. Do you know him?
35.
36. GITTES
37. Oh yes.
38.
39. CROSS
40. Where from?
41.
42. GITTES
43. -- We used to work together in
Chinatown.
44.
45. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
--------
46.
47.
48. CROSS
49. You may think you know what you're
50. dealing with, but believe me, you
51. don't.
52.
53. This stops Gittes. He seems faintly mused by it.
54.
55. CROSS
56. Why is that funny?
57.
58. GITTES
59. It's what the D.A. used to tell me
60. in Chinatown.
61.
62. Jake at the Hall of Records. (C. 8)
63. Jake and the orange farmers.
64. Jake and Evelyn in her car. (C. 9)
65. Jake and Evelyn at the Rest Home. Albacore flag .
66. Jake and Evelyn escape Mulvihill and the man in white.
67. Evelyn and Jake at her house. (C. 10)
68. EVELYN
69. Tell me, Mr. Gittes. Does this often
70. happen to you?
71.
72. GITTES
73. What's that?
74.
75. EVELYN
76. I'm judging only on the basis
77. of one afternoon and an evening, but
78. if this is how you go about your work,
79. I'd say you'd be lucky to get through
80. a whole day.
81.
82. GITTES
83. Actually this hasn't happened to me
84. for a long time.
85.
86. EVELYN
87. When was the last time?
88.
89. GITTES
90. Why?
91.
92. EVELYN
93. It's an innocent question.
94.
95. GITTES
96. In Chinatown.
97.
98. EVELYN
99. What were you doing there?
100.
101. GITTES
102. Working for the District Attorney.
103.
104. EVELYN
105. Doing what?
106.
107. GITTES
108. As little as possible.
109.
110. EVELYN
111. The District Attorney gives his men
112. advice like that?
113.
114. GITTES
115. They do in Chinatown.
116. .
117. Evelyn and Jake in the bathroom.
118. Jake and Evelyn in bed.
119. EVELYN
120. You really don't like to talk about the past, do you?
121.

122. GITTES
123. I'm tired.

124. EVELYN
125. No. Why does it bother you to talk about it?
126.

127. GITTES
128. It bothers everybody that works there.
129. EVELYN
130. Where?
131.

132. GITTES

Chinatown. Everybody. To me, it was just bad luck.

EVELYN

Why?

GITTES
You can't always tell what's going on.

Like with you.

EVELYN

Why was it bad luck?

GITTES

I was trying to keep someone from

being hurt. I ended up

making sure that she was hurt.

EVELYN

Cherchez la femme. Was there a woman involved?

GITTES

Of course.

EVELYN

Dead?

133. Evelyn gets a phone call. Cross owns the Albacore Club.
134. Jake tails Evelyn. (C. 11)
135. Jake watches through the window.
136. Jake confronts Evelyn about the girl.
137. Jake at home. Phone call that Ida wants to see him. (C. 12)
138. Jake finds Ida's corpse and Escobar.
139. Escobar and Jake at oceanfront drain.
140. Jake at Mulwray's house. "Salt water very bad for glass."
141. Jake confronts Evelyn. The truth. Not Hollis' glasses. (C. 13)
142. Jake calls Walsh. "Jesus, Jake. That's Chinatown, ain't it? (C. 14)
143. Escobar arrests Jake.
144. Jake at Curly's.
145. Jake escapes Escobar in Curly's truck.
146. Curly and Jake pick up Evelyn's bags.
147. Jake calls Cross. (C. 15)
148. Jake and Cross at Mulwray's.
149. Jake and Cross arrive in Chinatown. (C. 16) [Transcript of final scene.]
150. Jake, Cross and Escobar. "I can explain everything." "Lou, you don't
know what's going on."
151. Cross, Evelyn and Katherine.
152. Evelyn drives away. Horn sounds.
153. Escobar, Jake and Cross at the car.

GITTES

(REACTION SHOT). As little as possible.

ESCOBAR

What's that? What's that? You want to do your partner a big favor? Take him
home. Take him home! Just get him the hell out of here!

DUFFY

Come on, Jake.

ESCOBAR

Go home, Jake. I'm doing you a favor.

DUFFY

Come on Jake.

WALSH

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.